By Mary Pickels Tribune Democrat
When Sue Casey stepped inside a century-old house in Somerset County five years ago, she felt an immediate connection.
It was the roses. The wallpaper in one room was covered with them. The red-and-yellow tile on a staircase landing formed a compass rose.
The theme captivated Casey, the founder and president of “Remember Me” Rose Garden, a living tribute to those who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The center element of the Flight 93 garden forms a compass rose. Pointing north, south, east and west, it will symbolically direct viewers to the site where the 40 passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 wrestled with hijackers before the plane crashed in Stonycreek Township, killing all aboard.
“The ‘Forty Heroes’ rose is yellow,” Casey said, referring to one variety planted in the garden. “I thought, oh, my gosh, this is meant to be.”
The stone and frame house, known locally as the “Blue Mansion,” was on the market for $500,000 when Casey toured it. When Clay Mankamyer, vice president and director of the Flight 93 rose garden, inquired in January, the price had dropped to $300,000.
This month, the nonprofit entered into a lease-to-buy agreement with property owner Anthony Everly of Grantsville, Md.The group is applying for grants and hopes to purchase the property by year’s end.
By June, officials plan to open a bed and breakfast and begin growing roses at the 33-acre property to raise funds for the Flight 93 rose garden.
“Every time I would drive by that house, my heart just ached,” Casey said. “Now, I just want to jump up and click my heels with glee.”
Ten years ago, the Portland,Wash., woman was inspired to create gardens in memory of the nearly 3,000 people killed on 9/11. But funding for the three gardens, taking shape near the Flight 93, World Trade Center and Pentagon crash sites, has been a struggle.
Some specialty rose suppliers who donated a percentage of sales to garden construction and maintenance costs are ending their contracts. Casey has spent about $75,000 on the project, and donations have included cash and gardening tools.
Hybridizer Ping Lim, owner of Roses by Ping in McMinville, Ore., began developing roses for the gardens several years ago. The “Forty Heroes” rose and other hybrids he created to honor the 9/11 victims and survivors will be sold at the Blue Mansion.
The foundation of a dilapidated barn will be used to construct a greenhouse and storage building to support rose garden operations.
In addition to generating revenue, the house will provide office space for the garden’s board members and volunteers.
On Tuesday, Mankamyer and his wife, Mary Alice, gave visitors a tour of the house. Along Route 30 in Stoystown, it’s a short drive from the rose garden and the Flight 93 National Memorial.
“There are a couple of cosmetic things we need to do — paint and spruce-up. The structure is phenomenally sound,” he said.
Casey envisions the house “restored to its original glory,” from the original maid and butler call buttons on the walls to the hardwood floors, window seats and marble window sills.
Officials are seeking a manager and hope for donations of period furniture.
“We could use (the services of) plumbers, electricians, painters, tree pruners. This is all being done with volunteers,” Mary Alice Mankamyer said.
Casey said Patrick White, Families of Flight 93 president, was pleased with the acquisition.
“I said there always is going to be a place for a (Flight 93) family member. … We want them to feel like this is home, too,” she said.
How you can help
To donate to or volunteer for the “Remember Me” Rose Garden, contact Clay Mankamyer at 814-267-5709 or 814-233-4080.